Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella applauds tech's response to COVID-19

Nadella started the company's developers conference by discussing how tech has helped during the crisis.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
3 min read

Microsoft's Satya Nadella kicked off the company's all-digital developers conference on Tuesday.

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Tech has been behind some of the most high profile responses to the coronavirus so far, whether it be the widely cited Johns Hopkins University & Medicine map that's aggregated the number of reported infections and deaths around the world, or the programs designed to analyze the coronavirus and help find a cure. The NBA has used video game consoles to play virtual games, giving fans a different experience. And the NFL's live-stream for the first day of its draft event pulled in 15.6 million viewers, 37% over the average audience for last year.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella began a keynote address for his company's Build developer event by pointing to all the ways tech companies have been supporting health care, science, entertainment and work throughout the crisis.

Watch this: Microsoft aids Johns Hopkins University with COVID-19 map tracker

"I'm proud of how all of you have raised the game and been there when the world needed you the most," Nadella said. "Already, we've seen something like two years' worth of digital transformation in just two months."

For Microsoft in particular, that's meant quick uptake of its Teams virtual meeting and communications software, which the company said is now being used by 75 million people daily around the world, a 70% increase in the past two months. The company has also begun working with organizations like the Folding@home project, which asks people to install software that uses their idle computer's processing power to help researchers better understand the coronavirus.

"We've seen how critical digital technology is in the three phases of this crisis, from emergency response to the recovery phase to reimagining the world going forward," Nadella said.

Nadella's comments come as governments around the world continue their struggles to combat and contain the coronavirus, which has killed more than 319,000 patients worldwide and infected nearly 5 million people since it was first detected in December. Hundreds of millions of people have been placed in isolation and widespread lockdowns in efforts to slow further spreading the virus and reduce the pressure on hospitals, many of which have been overrun with patients.

The worldwide fight against the virus has also led to the widespread cancellation or delaying of events, including the 2020 summer Olympics; reduction in airline traffic; and even the indefinite closure of Disneyland.

Microsoft decided to hold its annual Build developer event online, rather than cancel it all together, making it the first of the major tech giants to attempt holding its event entirely over the internet. Apple is planning to hold its Worldwide Developers Conference ( WWDC ) online as well, starting June 22. CNET's global team is covering Build and WWDC, as well as other conferences that have shifted online, just as we always do -- by providing real-time updates, commentary and analysis you can only get here.

For Microsoft, the shift online hasn't changed its effort to announce new updates to products like its Edge browser, HoloLens headset and Azure server technology. The company also said it's supporting efforts to combat the coronavirus, including by dedicating some of its computers to help the Folding@home project.

"We are at an inflection point. As developers you have that opportunity as well as a responsibility to define what should be rebuilt, what should be reimagined and what should be left behind," Nadella said. "And we are already seeing developers have this impact."

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